In Reverence to Change

It’s an over-used adage: ‘Change is a good thing‘. It’s heard and read so often, sometimes, that you breeze by it without even registering it. The same thing can happen when you’ve been working towards a change for a long time; the results can fail to register as well. But occasionally something will happen so big and bold, it reminds you just how good change can be. And when you also realize that it’s your own blood and sweat and sacrifice that’s caused it, the reward is that much bigger…

A common change that we all try to make is to be ‘better parents than our own’, right? Well, the same is true for me, but in specific and measurable ways. I have, for the better part of twelve years now, been actively working on changing my own DNA when it comes to parenting. Reason being, I was raised by an impatient yeller (excessively so). Don’t get me wrong; this impatient yeller loved me (and still does) more than anyone else on the planet, and I have never doubted that for a second of my life. But yelling also came with the territory. We’re Irish: it’s in the blood – my Dad got angry and yelled; his Dad got angry and yelled; most of my Dad’s family gets angry and yells. We all do it. It doesn’t make it okay, but it’s how I learned to parent. And when I became a step-parent twelve years ago, it’s what I did, too; until I made the decision I was going to learn how NOT to.

Fast forward to now: my step-sons are grown and out of the house, and I have added an 8-year-old daughter to the mix. My ‘impatient yelling’ self is much more reigned in. She still pops out occasionally, but I am significantly more aware and in control of her; and most of the time, I can actively make a better choice regarding her reactions. Today, however, I was hit smack in the face with the distinction of choosing to make an effort to improve a behavior, and choosing to be present in the moment that you do it. It may seem like an odd insight; but I don’t think I have ever truly experienced the difference between the two – and I mean really FELT it – until today.

My daughter is amazing; healthy, brilliant, thriving. But she is also, at times, emotionally challenging, and has some things in that area we have to work on with her. This morning happened to be one of those times. I was clued-in when my husband, on his way out the door, popped into the bathroom with a desperate look on his face and said (after checking on our daughter’s ‘getting out of bed’ progress), “I’m sorry, she’s on the floor with her hands on her face saying she wants Momma…”. I took a few moments before I responded to her (I knew I would need them; I knew how this would go). And in those moments I was reminded of some advice I’ve been reading from an amazing blogger (Hands Free Mama) about being present – really living in the moment – and I made a choice. I decided then and there that, today, we would be late – late for school, late for work, late for everything – and that it would be okay. There was nothing monumental we would miss; nothing tragic would happen because of our lateness. And I decided to be okay with that, and let all the stress of rushing to get out the door go along with it. I stopped what I was doing to be there for my daughter because she needed me, and the moment needed me and, quite frankly, we weren’t getting out of that house if I didn’t. Once I was fully committed to my decision I took a couple of deep breaths, prepared myself for the long-haul, and headed upstairs.

As I entered her room I could hear her crying; she was already hiding in the closet. I walked over and knelt down in front of her and softly said, “You know what I noticed just now?” She shook her head. “I noticed that with all my rushing to get out of the house this morning, I haven’t taken the time to ask you if you need anything from me today, so I thought I would. So, is there anything you need, or that I can help you with this morning? I’m all yours.” At that she turned her big teary blue eyes to me and started lamenting about not being able to decide what to wear. From there, we moved into fears about going to school, then anxiety about cleaning her closet. None of it was really logical, but emotions rarely are. She then fixated on cleaning the closet floor, and I knew better than to try and avert her from it until she was done (she sometimes gets into modes like these when extremely overly-emotional or anxious). So I just settled in, calmly talked to her, and let her whirl until I found the opening to re-direct. I eventually got her focused on breakfast and getting dressed and moving a little farther forward, but not by pushing; more by letting her flow the way she needed to. We eventually wound back up in the bathroom (finally clothed and fed) with me finishing up my routine, and her brushing her teeth. She was keeping a close proximity to me even though she was done, and was sitting on the edge of the bathtub. I found myself, in that moment, making another choice. I turned to her and said, “Well, we’re almost ready to go, but you know there’s one other thing I have to do today first. I don’t know about you, but I could really use a big hug.” I then knelt down in front of her again (being on her level really helps out), which made her grin because at 8-years-old, she’s actually taller than I am when I’m kneeling. She just kind of gazed at me for a few minutes, gently playing with my hair, then she giggled, saying, “You have funny gray hairs on the top of your head, Momma”, with a big grin on her face. Then she leaned in for a big hug; long enough that I could still feel her with me even after she bounded out of the bathroom to go find her shoes.

Eventually we got out of the house (really late), got her to school (even later), and I got to work (later still). And I was right; nothing monumentally bad happened. In fact, probably the opposite. Because I took the time to get her in a better state of mind, she actually had the chance at a half-way decent day, vs. me forcing her out of the house in a panic-stricken state which would have ensured her day was a bust (and mine, as well). Lateness isn’t fatal. Stress and (seeming) failure and tears and grief are far greater foes. We would do well to remember that more often. As I drove to work I felt comfort in the knowledge that I had made good choices for the morning, lateness or not.

However, it wasn’t until the drive home that evening that the impact of my decisions really hit me. As I was on my way to pick my daughter up, I was wondering (for the millionth time) how her day had actually gone; what kind of mood she would be in when I got to her. I was replaying the morning’s happenings in my head. And it was then that I had a revelation; my memories of the events weren’t what I expected. Normally I would focus on my stress, her anxiety, the upset tears, my efforts to stay calm, etc. They would all be jumbled together in one big frustrating mess. But this time, the memories were clear and crisp, not to mention surprising. I remembered the feel of the carpet on my legs as I knelt down in front of her closet; the color of her blue eyes and messy blond hair as she looked up at me; the warmth of her hand as she took mine to go down the stairs; the sound of her voice giggling and feel of her hands on my ‘funny gray hair’ as I sat below her in the bathroom; the weight of her as she leaned into me for that huge, long hug. That’s what I remember about this morning. All those little moments, like snapshots in my head and heart. They are clear and sparkling in my mind because I was there; I was truly present for each of those moments today. And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t just choose not to be angry today; I CHOSE to be PRESENT.

I did this. I made this happen. No one but me. By consciously making a choice to be present, to give myself to the situation, to be different for my daughter and for myself, I created these moments today. I made this change. It’s several hours past when it first hit me and I’m still floored by the vastness of it. I’ve been working so hard at controlling the anger/yelling piece for so long, it astounds me that today I surpassed that in a way I didn’t even realize I was striving for. Just by choosing to BE IN THE MOMENT changed the whole game. Changed my whole memory of the event. It’s staggering, really, the impact of this specific change.

And it’s such, such a good thing.

Put Away Your Scalpels

Tonight I went walking with my daughter.  It was great to be outside; strolling in the sun and the breeze.  It’s been some time since I’ve felt myself really move, felt alive, watched her laugh and live beside me.  I would have missed out on today as well, if not for a little white lie.

This morning I had an appointment with my dermatologist.  Just a regular checkup, though it seems like my checkups are never really “regular”.  I am blessed on my father’s side with a large Irish bloodline.  This also means I am somewhat un-blessed with very fair Irish skin; pale, burns easily, lots of moles.  I very frequently have irregular moles removed.  Almost always, they end up benign, and we’re good to go.  This past April, however, was my 3-year cancerversary.  Having a melanoma removed from your thigh at 37 is an experience, let me tell you.  So I take my checkups seriously, and when my doc sees something he thinks should go, I listen.  But today was different.

The reason?  I have just come out of the other side of one hell of a migraine cycle.  It was basically an entire month of pain, grouchy wife/momma, weekends trying to rest, meds, early evenings, rinse, repeat.  It happens; you take it a day at a time and get through it until it fades.  But while you’re in it, it’s crap.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it; it just plain sucks.  Not only for me, but also for my family.  It’s draining on all of us.  My husband carries the extra weight, my daughter (age 7) has to give up her Momma to this mystery ailment she can’t see or fight against, and I just try to endure while my body depletes until I feel like there’s nothing left for anyone let alone me.

Since I’ve rebounded, the last several days have felt like a cloud has finally lifted.  My energy has started to return, I’ve been able to exercise again, I’ve been enjoying time with my girl and my family, I’ve just been able to breathe.  So today when my doc said he wanted to remove another mole (from the top of my foot, no less, inhibiting my mobility for a couple of weeks to heal), I was surprised how my logic voice of ‘probably a good idea’ was so loudly drowned out by my inner spirit screaming out “NO CUTTING!!”  All I could think was ‘not today; not now; I need more time to feel good, more time to breathe, more time in between hurting and being the Mom who can’t play on Saturday because she’s trying to heal, more time to be human and whole and just….ME‘.

Thing is, I didn’t think I could explain that to my doc without sounding like a raving loon.  And at that point, he was already readying the scalpel and lidocaine; I didn’t have a lot of time.  So I blurted out the only other thing that came to mind.  “Uh, I have a wedding to attend this Saturday, and I think there will be dancing.  Is your concern level pretty high on this one?”  Not very smooth; but it worked.  He said it was only a minor concern, and that as long as I had it taken care of within 4-8 weeks, we’d be fine.  He then said it was probably better to enjoy the dancing and nice shoes without the foot incision, and to have fun.  That smarted a little more than the cut probably would have, but don’t fool yourself thinking I spent a lot of time dwelling…I hightailed it out of there as fast as my mole-covered legs would take me.  (After responsibly scheduling my return appointment for 4 weeks out; I’m not completely throwing caution to the wind here, people.)

I will say I fully enjoyed my walk this evening.  Guilt free, headache free, even if it wasn’t mole-free.  I’ll hold on to this one for a little while longer.

Storms, and Bookstores, and Accordions…Oh My

There are days where you start out with a plan.  Maybe you have a goal in mind, errands to do, an outing, etc.  You decide on a course, confident you will follow it and accomplish what you set out to do; and then fate steps in.

My Sunday started out like this; the goal was to acquire activity books for my daughter to be used during our plane flight on our upcoming vacation.  There is a Half Price Books store fairly near our house, and they often have new ones for cheap, so this was the intended location of the morning.  (A little background…  The weather here – Ohio state – has been volatile lately.  Very hot, humid, and stormy.  Two nights ago we had a particularly nasty storm; 80 mph straight-line winds, power outages, downpours, lots of damage.  Many areas of town were still recovering through the weekend.)  My daughter and I had already wandered over to Half Price Books on Saturday, only to discover they were closed as a result of no power.  However, I was again in the area later that day, and the traffic lights and a couple of businesses looked operable.  I assumed the grid was back up, so we decided to try again the next day.

With our mission in mind we again headed out Sunday morning for our destination.  Unfortunately, they were still closed with no power.  A little frustrated but undeterred, we decided to head a bit farther out to another HPB location so we could acquire our intended loot.  After 20 more minutes in the car and some overly dramatic radio sing-a-longs, we arrived.  There were markedly few cars in the area, and upon inspection we learned that this location was also out of power.  Ugh.  The plan for the day was unraveling quickly…

Given that our trip was looming, and I didn’t have the luxury of more HPB locations nor lots of time to wait for power fixes (some areas at this point were estimating 5-7 days before repair), we broke down and decided to head for the full-price shelves of Barnes & Noble which was very nearby.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of B&N and browse there often.  But for activity books that my girl will use and abuse on a plane and then dispose of quickly, I would really much prefer the budget route.  However, with a little selective browsing and a trip through the sales rack, we wound up getting out of B&N without breaking the bank.

After a nice girls lunch full of laughs and funny faces (not to mention odd looks from other patrons), we decided to meander over to Whole Foods before heading home.  Shortly after we walked in, I noticed the familiar strains of accordion music drifting through the air.  Leaning over to my daughter, I whispered in her ear, “Remember the accordion man I showed you the picture of not too long ago?  He’s here.”  “NO WAY!!  WHERE?!?”,  was the loudly excited reply.  It took a few tries, but I finally convinced her that where he was located was outside of the checkout area, and we needed to quickly gather our purchases and pay for them before we could go see him.  The plus side of this was it helped to get her to be uncharacteristically helpful while we shopped for the few things we needed, and kept her from being as handsy as she normally is.

We checked out quickly and made our way over to the same spot I found him in before; a chair in the corner of the eating area.  I wasted no time walking up to him today, and saying a hearty hello.  The big grin I remembered from the first time I saw him (you can read about it here) was just as sparkly, and he was obviously happy to have company.  I reminded him I was the woman who took his picture a few short weeks ago, and apologized for not having caught his name.  “It’s Burt!” he said excitedly.  I introduced myself and my daughter, who was suddenly very shy.  He pulled a chair up for us and encouraged us to sit down and listen, which we did, my daughter on my lap.  It was so sweet the way he showed her his accordion (“64 years old with lots of duct tape, but it still plays just fine!”), and picked out songs he thought she would know (such as ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’).  My daughter relaxed and opened up once the music began into play.  She loved the tunes immensely, and I loved watching her listen and smile.

What I didn’t expect was to be caught off guard when he started playing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’.  I found myself tearing up as I was suddenly my daughter’s age, sitting in my childhood living room, watching my father play the accordion as I marveled how he could work such an amazing contraption.  Somewhat of a surreal experience as I held my own daughter on my lap.  As Burt shifted to ‘Tura Lura Lura’ the memory continued, and was compounded by thoughts of my large Irish family and my grandfather’s funeral.  I had no sooner started to dab at my eyes when my daughter turned and asked, “Momma, are you crying?  You’re not supposed to cry, dry it up lady!!” She said it in the funniest way I just had to laugh, then we both laughed, and then Burt laughed because he probably had no idea what happened but thought laughing was a great idea and joined in for the heck of it.

We listened a little while longer and then said our goodbyes.  Burt asked us to please come listen again, and we promised we would.  As we exited the store I mentioned to my daughter that it was probably a good thing the power was out in the Half Price Books that day, or we never would have run in to Burt and his accordion at all, for we would have been nowhere near the Whole Foods store.  Our original plan would have had us in, out, and home in a flash.  As it turns out, the revised events for the day held much more adventure and richness than my original plan could possibly have garnered.  I supposed plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, now are they?  Often times it’s the unplanned that yields the biggest rewards.